Another fantastic question that came up in the conference in Portland, was how to vet, manage and showcase 2nd and 3rd party content. Now you might wonder, should I even let them publish in my community?
Truly, that is only something you can answer. What works for my community, might not work for yours. I have seen some business models where it made more sense than with others.
4 Questions for consideration:
- Do you have a product or solution that is often rolled out or refined by another company? (Think Salesforce products that are built out by a 3rd party certified agency)
- Is your product mainly sold through resellers and partners (Think IT software, hardware products, or Financial Services accounts like 401(k)s or life insurance products)?
- Is your community based on knowledge provided by research facilities such as MIT, Stanford or latest breaking technology and R&D? I see this often in Education communities.
- Is your product an open platform and you attract a lot of individual developers as well as consultants?
If any of those sound like your model, then yes, 3rd party contributions might make good sense in your content mix.
Content Planning for 3rd party contributions
- How do I manage, schedule, vet and publish them?
- Should I even do any of that? Or is that censorship?
- How do I distinguish it from our corporate content?
- Should our company take on the liability in case something is incorrect or out of date in these vendor content pieces?
These are all good questions, and there are no universal right answers. I will explain a couple of concepts we have used before, but by no means are they perfect, or perfect for you. So feel free to take what works for you and leave what is not.
Your relationship with this 3rd party?
They are authorized, or certified and are regarded as a valuable partner. In that case, I think it is important to let them be present on your community. But for sure, give them a distinction. The Salesforce Success Community is a perfect example, so is the Lithium and other SaaS community for that matter.
Only certified partners get the right stickers and badges. Hence their content has a lot more gravitas. Their contribution is very valuable to both customer and your company.
Aside from that, you can always consider if your relationship with this “partner” is set up to monetize
Of course this consideration is completely different for contributors in the research and education industry. In those cases, your community may provide thought leadership to stand out. Hence the more expert voices can contribute to a specific topic, the better for you and your community members. I would still highly recommend marketing experts with badges or titles to help them stand out as highly trusted contributors. Here are two examples of what we have done on the Wealth+Health community. Our brand content carries the brand badges, but other experts get their own badges to recognize the topic of their expertise.
Authority of 3rd party content
While it is ok to recognize other experts in the field on your community and giving them a place the share their knowledge, it is still your community. It has always been our approach to never let user generated or 3rd party content outrank corporate content. Why?
If another experts’ content is positioned to carry equal weight as yours, than in net effect, you are telling your community, that others know more about your product than yourself. Now sometimes that is totally ok, see the examples above of research, R&D, education, Open API development etc. But if you are a brand, and you have a product and you have to protect it’s integrity, you may not want someone else’s recommendation to trump your official documentation or issue resolution.
Just ask yourself the question: “who is ultimately responsible to provide the correct answer to your community members?” Most of the time, the answer will be: YOU (or your company). So make sure you content is always clearly labelled with your company’s name or job titles of your employees to give their content more authority.
Another element to never forget, you can never be responsible for keeping others’ recommendations updated. But you as the brand, should always make sure to update or post the latest documentation on your community. (example from EMC’s Isilon community below)
Sometimes even disclaimers are necessary to distinguish between your and your “experts” contributions.
There are many considerations for 3rd party content. The main things for you to keep in mind are: your relationship to this “expert”; can you trust their knowledge consistently; how can you distinguish them from your brand, to make sure you don’t assume liability for “false” recommendations.
Additional blogs from this series include: